While every win carries its share of significance, none in the history of the West Kelowna Warriors remotely compares to Saturday night’s victory against the Penticton Vees.
With a 4-3 verdict over their longtime Okanagan rivals, the Warriors officially celebrated the club’s first BCHL Interior Division championship since putting down stakes in West Kelowna 10 seasons ago.
Warriors’ owner Mark Cheyne said every person connected to the team had a hand in the historic and groundbreaking win.
“It was good to see this happen for everyone that’s involved with the team,” said Cheyne, who took over the club prior to the 2007-08 season. “To see the energy in our building over the course of the series, to see our fans and our volunteers be rewarded, that really meant a lot to me.
“We had never been this close, never even been to a deciding game, so to have a winning opportunity and make it happen, is great,” Cheyne added. “It broke new ground for the organization.”
The series win advances the Warriors into the third round along with the two other division champs, Chilliwack and Nanaimo. The first two teams to three victories in the double round robin will meet in the BCHL final.
In addition to claiming their first ever banner, the Warriors found a way past what had been, for nine previous seasons, a seemingly insurmountable hurdle—the Penticton Vees.
It was the first time West Kelowna had beaten the defending champion Vees in four post season series.
“Our division is so good from top to bottom, it’s really huge to be able to get through it,” said Cheyne, whose Warriors beat both Salmon Arm and Penticton in six games.
“That’s a big machine (Vees) down there, so to finally get their number was great for our team.
“They’re a classy organization,” Cheyne said of the Vees. “(Coach and GM) Fred Harbinson called me the day after and congratulated us. He knows hard it is to win in this league.”
Cheyne pointed to work ethic and committed team play as keys in the series win, but also cited the solid and often spectacular goaltending of Matthew Greenfield.
Acquired in December from the USHL, Greenfield made a diving glove stop off Nicholas Jones in the final minute of Game 6 to help preserve the club’s fourth win in a row over the Vees.
“(Greenfield) made the biggest save of the organization’s history, so real kudos to our goalie, he did a great job,” Cheyne said. “The whole team played unbelievable, blocking shots and killing penalties.
“You need breaks but you’ve got to earn them. Our guys did that, I thought they outworked (Penticton) and saw the results of that.”
Cheyne also commended the play of defensemen Rylan Yaremko and Kristian Blumenschein who each logged 25 to 30 minutes a night. The two were tasked with shutting down Vees’ top weapons Tyson Jost and Scott Conway, who had just two points combined over the last three games.
“They were unbelievable, they basically shut those guys down after Game 3,” Cheyne said.
As for the man in the general manager’s chair and behind the bench, Cheyne said Rylan Ferster’s dedication and hard work of the past five seasons has been vital to the club’s success.
“He works really hard at recruiting and once they’re here, he works hard for the kids,” Cheyne said of Ferster. “Our mandate is getting scholarships for them and he’s done a great job at that.
“Obviously, he’s also done a great job of coaching the team.”
The Warriors will open the three-team double round robin on Tuesday night in Chilliwack, then will host the Nanaimo Clippers on Thursday night. Face off at Royal LePage Place is 7 p.m.
Cheyne said nothing will come easy from here on in.
“They’re all tough teams,” Cheyne said of both the Chiefs and Clippers. “Chilliwack is talented, they fly around pretty good and play a good, fast transition game.
“All three teams have outstanding goaltending. The guy in the net for any of these teams could be the difference.”
All photos courtesy of http://www.greystokephoto.com